The people have spoken, and they're cool with you getting a little buzz going before submitting yourself to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. At a meeting of Community Board 3's SLA & DCA Licensing Committee last night, neighborhood residents and members of the film community came together in support of the Metrograph, an independent movie theater scheduled to open next February on the Lower East Side.

While construction for the multipurpose space is already underway, its owners sought the approval of both the community board and the State Liquor Authority in order to serve alcohol at the theater's full service restaurant. With over 40 supporters present at Monday night's meeting, board members voted unanimously in favor of granting the Metrograph a liquor license.

"We think this is going to be really wonderful for the neighborhood, and the neighborhood showed up and confirmed that," Ethan Oberman, CEO of Metrograph LLC, told Gothamist. Oberman got involved with the project through its founder Alexander Olch, a former classmate of his back at Harvard. Both a filmmaker and a clothing designer, Olch brings film and fashion industry experience to the Metrograph, his brainchild six years in the making. Rounding out the executive team are Artistic Director Jake Perlin, who hails from Lincoln Center and BAMcinematek, and Head of Programming Aliza Ma, a Toronto Film Festival veteran.

On its ground floor, the two screen theater will include a film-focused bookstore and a café-lounge where cinephiles can enjoy a "writer's menu" of small bites "to be eaten with one hand while writing."


Upstairs, a restaurant with 19 tables and 72 seats will offer a full menu of "Art deco American cuisine" prepared by a chef, a legal requirement for movie theaters that want to serve alcohol. As a means of distinguishing the types of service offered in each dining area, the Metrograph ambitiously lists meal prep times on its menu.

The facility will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. seven days a week, and drink service ends at 2 in the morning. At most, the entire building can hold 600 people, including 171 in its larger theater and 46 in a smaller second theater. On another block, an establishment serving liquor to hundreds of patrons might have raised some eyebrows. But the Metrograph lies east of the Manhattan Bridge on a brief stretch of Ludlow that isn't as densely residential.

"It's sort of a mysterious corner of New York that time forgot," said filmmaker Charlie Ahearn. With only a brick wall for a neighbor, the standalone building is unlikely to bother any sleepy nearby residents.

During their presentation, Olch explained that "the vision for the entire complex is to really be evocative of movies," later adding that he hoped to capture "some sense of glamour from the past and some preciousness" in his design. Come February, the buzz surrounding the conceptual art space is sure to draw a hipper crowd. But the last thing Olch wants to be is exclusive.

"We're trying to create a place where people would go even if they weren't gonna see a movie," he said. In order to avoid looking like a red carpet with lines winding around the block, all tickets will be sold online.

Many residents hope the cinema will become a community art space in a neighborhood that doesn't currently have much of a film scene.

"The idea of having the kids grow up and having a place to go where they can see films they wouldn’t see otherwise is kind of amazing," said Natasha Sokol, a mother of two children who lives nearby. "We really don't have anything like that."

"Film-wise, it's a cultural desert," added New York Times writer Elaine Louie, who lives on 4th Street (a short walk from Anthology Film Archives, the Sunshine cinema and Angelika Film Center).

As evidence of their commitment to serving the community, the Metrograph team have partnered with the Henry Street Settlement, a nonprofit that provides social services to New Yorkers living on the Lower East Side. At the CB meeting, Executive Director David Garza discussed plans for educational programming and film mentoring to be implemented down the line.

"We believe this is filling a void in the community," he said.

While a recent flyer campaign urging residents to voice their opposition suggested the theater might be arousing some negative sentiment, only one person signed up to advocate for denying the liquor license and ultimately they declined to speak. A petition presented at the meeting had 92 signatures supporting approval.

For all its arthouse cred, the Metrograph promises to offer a diverse program of independent as well as big budget films on largely 35mm, archive-quality projection.

"What I admired about Jake when I first met him was his quite 'lowercase-c' catholic attitude toward film programming," Olch told Gothamist. "What he's interested in is greatness and quality, and that's not restricted to a certain kind of film."

Growing up in New York, Olch says he fell in love with film by frequenting a group of theaters the industry no longer supports. But while his new project may be inspired by an old model, Olch believes the independent theater has the potential be more than just a throwback.

"Ultimately what I feel we're creating is a new garde of film programming here in the city," he explained optimistically. "We want to create something that's more than a movie theater."